Never a Dull Moment
With locations in both Mason and Leslie, MECO graces rural skylines with 100-foot metal bins, connected by a web of steel, orange-colored tubes that resemble a giant LEGO® kit.
“Everything moves,” says co-owner Russ McCalla as he steps across the railroad tracks at the main facility. “When we’re not harvesting, we’re maintaining the structure and equipment. There’s never a dull moment.”
With a capacity of more than 2 million bushels, MECO offers a custom line of feeds for animals great and small, plus tailored applications of fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides. Business infrastructure consists of storage and processing facilities, as well as a 750-ton liquid fertilizer plant. A retail outlet rounds out the mix, and is open to both farmers and the general public.
“We refer to ourselves as a full-service elevator,” says co-owner Ken Brown. “We sell ourselves on service, and then provide the best possible service we can.”
Going against the grain
McCalla grew up on a dairy farm. Brown came of age working on a pig farm. Today, the two are supplying feed for livestock, deer and domestic animals, and offering customer services to professional and hobby farmers.
Both Brown and McCalla started working at MECO as teens. Two decades ago, these co-owners did anything and everything the business needed, including sweeping floors, tending deliveries, managing facilities and helping to build three-story storage bins from the ground up.
“In the time I’ve been here we’ve gone from serving mostly small farmers to big farmers and back to an influx of small farmers again,” says McCalla. “We serve hobby farmers, too. It’s gone full circle.”
The two Mason natives purchased MECO in 2004 from McCalla’s parents, Dale and Meris, who had owned the company for roughly 30 years. Pointing to framed aerial photographs of company facilities, Brown added that MECO marked its 100th anniversary in 2008.
“It’s been a dream come true,” says Brown of being a co-owner. “I always wanted to be my own boss and be part of the community.”
Getting a lift
With 300 customers and 17 employees, MECO is a community mainstay. The majority of the business revolves around the big three: corn, wheat and soybeans. The company also boasts a full line of fertilizers and field treatments, and applies them custom to the farm.
“Unless you’re in agriculture, you might not understand how we work,” says Brown. “Like Russ said, it’s a cycle.”
The most tangible segment of elevator business takes place in the summer and the fall. Customers harvest grain and deliver it by semi to a MECO facility where it’s purchased, dried and stored in bins until ready to be milled or sold. What MECO doesn’t supply to producers of flour, ethanol, animal feeds or soybean oil, it grinds into its own line of feed for horses, cows and pigs.
To strengthen a customer’s harvest, MECO rolls out heavy-duty equipment for applying liquid or dry fertilizers and other crop treatments. While the process is equipment-intensive, it’s driven by detailed on-site analysis of soil conditions. That analysis, Brown says, provides a map of a farmer’s field, showing areas that need more, less or no chemical treatments at all. Data are then loaded and programmed onto a tiny chip that enables a giant tractor to automatically vary application of dry or liquid product as it rolls across the fields.
“It’s technology that ensures we’re not putting fertilizer where it’s not needed, and getting it where it’s needed most,” says Brown. “It’s almost like we’re administering a prescription.”
Kernels of truth
Standing on the dock of the Mason grinding facility, McCalla reflects on the changes he has seen since coming on board in the early 1980s. He brushes a fine powder of grain from his sleeves and gazes down the tracks to another MECO facility in town.
“That’s the facility I helped build from the ground up,” he smiles as he points to the towering steel cylinders. “That’s when I figured out why I learned geometry in school.”
McCalla recalls when farmers delivered grain by trailers rather than semis. He talks again about how many farms evolved from small to big then back to small again. He mentions the hobby farmers, too, and the occasional customer who stops by for a special blend of dog food or feed.
Both McCalla and Brown concur that despite all the changes, one thing stays the same: a local, hometown feel. They know many customers by name, and remember addresses and phone numbers by heart. They’ve had customers for decades, and are working to support the next generation by sponsoring local 4-H events and activities at the Ingham County Fair.
“We’re a tight-knit family-run business,” says Brown. “Customer service and community support are our big stronghold. We’re here to give back.”
Russ McCalla, Co-owner
Ken Brown, Co-owner
104 S. Lansing St.